Another Cloud Podcast

A podcast designed to bring you stories from the smartest minds in IT, operations and business, and learn how they're using Cloud Technology to improve business and the customer experience.

Maintaining CX Support through Multiple M&As with Matt Dale

with Alex McBratney and Dustin Riedel

Don't have time to listen? Read the full transcription.

Alex McBratney (Host)  00:00

Hello, and welcome to another cloud podcast, a podcast designed to bring you stories from the smartest minds in it, operations and business and learn how they're using cloud technology to improve business and customer experience. Well, today we have Matt Dale, VP of Customer Success and Support over at Illuminate Education. And of course, we have Aarde Cosseboom again from TechStyle. Great to have you both on the show. And Matt, thanks for jumping on. 

Matt Dale (Guest) 0:31

Glad to be here, Alex. Yeah, super excited. 

Alex McBratney (Host) 0:33

So just to give us a little bit of background, and Aarde and I, you know, we talked a little bit before with you and whatnot. And you and I had a conversation before the podcast and tell us a little bit about your journey and how you got to where you're at with Illuminate. And you know, just getting into the customer support role and how that story is different for everybody. So always curious to learn how it was for you. 

Matt Dale (Guest)  00:55

Yeah, mine was a fairly convoluted path to customer service. And that was really, I think every job I've had has had an element of that in it. And so in high school, my mom is a graphic designer. And so we always had computers growing up. And I'm kind of the generation that was the sort of the transition period, right? We had folks that didn't have computers, we've had folks that did. And so we did, and I got my mom's computer and like any kid messed around with it, and broken and went, Oh, shoot, I've got it, I've got to fix this thing. And that and that turned into me fixing and breaking my own computers. And then other people were like, hey, Matt, can you come help me fix my computer and cool. So instead of having a normal, you know, flipping a burger type job as a high school student, I was teaching internet skills classes through our public school department and had a lab with 30 IMAX in it. And I would come in a couple days a week and teach internet skills classes to senior citizens and, and that turned into they all needed me to come to their house to help fix things. And so you know, that that that helped me develop some of my tablet troubleshooting abilities, and really kind of get in the Hey, how do we how do we help fix problems for people after college got a liberal arts degree, which, you know, what are you going to do with that other than, you know, flip burgers. And so I decided, hey, let's let's dive back into the computer repair. And in Ohio, California, a small town up near Santa Barbara, I got to get to work on a bunch of people's computers at a small Apple authorized repair center there. And so I got to rub elbows with some famous, you know, celebrities and movie stars and really interesting folks and kind of learned how to, you know, interact with a bunch of different people. After that I was working on my MBA, and I moved down to Orange County, working at a law firm, and had an opportunity to kind of help bring two firms together, one was firmly entrenched in the 1980s. With you know, like, we were running Windows 98, in like, the mid 2000s. Right. So like, everyone had two computers on their desk, one for the old software that they never upgraded, and one for the new stuff and kind of tried to help bring those firms together. Ultimately, the founding attorneys decided they were going to split and I had an opportunity to get back into more tech based stuff, which is where I found Illuminate Education and kind of went from startup mode of I think it was employee number 20 or 21. All the way up to where we are today through many different mergers acquisitions. And, you know, my support team that I run is almost three times the size when I started so yeah.

Aarde Cosseboom (Co-Host)  03:16

I love that that's the best origin story as of yet. I love my hands. It's kind of like, you know, back in like the 40s and 50s. Like our my parents and our parents' generation, they had an auto shop at school where they learned how to take apart and put back together a car. And that was kind of their trade, and then out of potentially out of high school and or, you know, going into college and learning a little bit more about business. They went into which, you know, what was the technology boom at that point, which was industrial engineering, which was, you know, manufacturing and lots of hands on. So, really awesome to see your origin story being similar, but in the computer space in the tech space as technology grew. And then, you know, as it grew from hardware, more to software, and then more to cloud, how you've migrated into that. So that's, that's pretty amazing. Um, you talked a little bit about challenges around mergers and lots of hyper growth in a small startup to you know, now you're even your team is bigger than what your company was when you started. So talk us through a little bit about those challenges you know, how does a merger work technology wise, like how does it affect your team, your business? 

Matt Dale (Guest)  04:29

Yeah, so starting off kind of very much a startup mentality with everyone coming in. And like from a customer support perspective, everyone had phones on their desks and the phones rang and if you're able to answer you did and so we had, you know, you could talk to a salesperson, maybe you might talk to a developer directly. You didn't get the CEO sometimes when he was in his office and so kind of very much and all hands let's pull together and get this thing, you know, taken care of, not a lot of clearly defined roles, but basically everyone just pulling together and helping out. And so, as we grew over the years, we had some investment from private equity. And that allowed us to accelerate more quickly than then we had kind of with organic growth. And that was really exciting, you know, being able to scale quickly and, you know, expand our reach. At the time, I think one of our company goals was to have one of our products and every school district in the country. That was a big, you know, aspirational goal, but we're really working to say, hey, yeah, exactly, like, how can we get our stuff out there? How can we help, you know, teachers, and educators do their jobs better and get their hands on our software. And so having the extra funding was able to lead us to do that. And it also allowed us to look at other companies that said, Hey, you know, this, this is one that has technology, that would be really great if we just integrate it into our, into our, you know, our stack, or, hey, this is a kind of a small regional competitor, what if we, you know, purchase them and kind of partner with them, and then they're able to, you know, grow that way and expand our reach in that fashion. And so I think it's a, probably a fairly typical story from that perspective, but some of the challenges as a leader and support, you know, just because you signed a piece of paper, saying, hey, the company's together, just because the money transfers doesn't mean you actually have, there's a lot of work between that and actually being able to execute and take care of your clients and things like that. And so, we've been dealing with a lot of different challenges with what's the right size of the team, you know, do we have any redundancies on the team? What, you know, how do we, you know, take these diverse support models, one that might be focused primarily on self service, and another that's focused very much on high touch, and kind of be able to cross sell those products without totally frustrating customers on either end? And how do you get everyone's ticketing system on the same like, I've merged, we've gone from Freshdesk, and remain Zendesk instance, we've gone from Salesforce service desk into that we had one team that was shared inbox, which is always a kind of a low tech, kind of early startup mode. You know, and we've done it, we've done a bunch of these different, you know, kind of transitions and moving people switching phone systems, you know, consulting five different phone systems into one and, and there've been a lot of interesting challenges and interesting problems. I think the other aspect of it too, aside from the technology, is really how do you help your team and your people feel connected. So when we did the big mega merger, we basically five big companies together, I spent a lot of time in the air after that, I was flying to our Atlanta Office, to our New York City Office to our Long Island office, our office in Denver, in our office in Northern California, and really making sure that I had the chance to connect with people that they got to know who I was, I'm the new boss from this new company that we're part of. And in a lot of cases, they're kind of like, Hey, I like the way it was before, how am I going to, you know, fit into this brave new world? And, and so being there, and being able to be personable, and listen, just, hey, help me understand, you know, what are we doing well, that we don't lose sight of what are the things that are frustrating right now? What are some of the weird challenges that your team faces? And, you know, how can we help kind of address some of those issues and so, so I think, kind of over the course, the last couple years, we've really been focusing on building a solid leadership team and structure inside my team, and also making sure that my team has the tools they need to be successful. And, you know, being able to make the case for senior leadership, hey, this is how many staff we actually need, you know, based on our current volume, and things like that.

Alex McBratney (Host)  08:09

Yeah, you know, so many good points, right, with change management and how to do it effectively. And one of the questions I, you know, I always get or, you know, like to ask, too, is, how quickly when there's a merger and acquisition, at least with the fight that you brought on? Is it coming down? Like, let's move, let's roll these people in as fast as we can? Or is it? Let's take our time doing it right, like, How was it for you? Like when, when that's when that was approached to you? 

Matt Dale (Guest)  08:35

Yeah, so I think you kind of have to take in on a case by case basis, we've had kind of the big five way merger acquisition, we had to move fairly quickly, in that sense, just to get people feeling comfortable and safe, right, there's a big upset, big change. And so what does this mean for my job? What does this mean for like, Am I gonna lose it? Or are we going to get rid of my product? So one of the things we did in that case, we did a lot of planning ahead of time, very, very quietly, because you obviously can't be making big announcements like that. But kind of, we put a lot of work into saying, Okay, let's make sure we have people in different parts of the company with boots on the ground at each of these offices. And then let's build out a, you know, 30 6090 day plan on how we're going to integrate things. That particular one for us, we're very seasonal, with supporting public school districts here in the US, you know, traffic doubles from basically mid August through early December. And so, that merger happened kind of in the summer. So it was an opportunity for us to kind of move very quickly and get people, at least on the same team, that first fall that we had together with that particular acquisition was everyone was in the different systems and so that was okay, who, who's right on the ship? Okay, Matt, you're running the ship. Alright, what's structuring? Hey, we need a couple directors to help, you know, manage all these different teams. Okay, great. Now, do we have formal team leads in each of these cases, and so kind of putting that structure in place really quickly, allowed us to then you know, get me in front of people get their new director in front of them and help calm people down a little bit and kind of get on top of it. And then it was, let's take a look and assess when is the right time for us to start? What systems do we have out here? What effort is it going to take to get these systems integrated, and then you know, what time frame makes the most sense for our client base so that we can be ready to not drop the ball big time and not cause a big problem. And so in most of those cases, over the course of the next six to eight months, prior to the next, you know, June, we work to kind of starting getting those systems moved in, and something like a shared inbox, that's a fairly easy transition into Zendesk because you're like, cool, repoint, this email address, right, you know, get a couple licenses, we're out, we're rolled, everything's good. When you're talking about, hey, we've got, you know, three years of data in Freshdesk. And we want to make sure that we move that data, and we have a clean transition, what does that look like, and there's a lot more work that it takes to kind of get those steps done. And so, so I think, generally, it was kind of a Hey, let's, let's make sure we plan properly, we think we think about this really carefully. We look at all the different weird use cases and implications. And then and then cool. Now we know what the plan is, let's execute on that plan as quickly as we can. Because the longer we're separate, and the longer we're using separate systems, the harder it is to, you know, just pulling monthly reporting for the first couple months was a nightmare. Because, you know, I had this, I kept it on a spreadsheet, because I couldn't pull it, you know, it's all these different systems and all these different it was all these caveats to senior leadership would be like, Hey, what's the number here? And it's like, well, it's this, but there's an asterisk, because, you know, you need to be aware that in this system, we don't track this. But in this system, we do and you know, stuff like that. So yeah, it was it was interesting. 

Aarde Cosseboom (Co-Host)  11:35

Yeah, having a system of record is super important, especially with customer service, and sales and marketing, of course, but with customer service, you know, you are only as good as the tools that you have to look up. What happened to a customer in the past, what type of product? Are they on? What, what segment? Are they just even their name and email address, so you know exactly how to communicate with them. And having different tool sets, migrating them into one can cause a technology challenge. But what about the customer experience challenge? Did? Did your customers feel a little bit of the pain even though you took the time to create a well thought out, transition and change management plan? Was there still a little bit of, Oh, dang it, like, we missed that little field there. And we won't be able to have that for the agents like it was there still some customer experience hiccups and challenges. 

Matt Dale (Guest)  12:32

I think there were a few in most of the cases, we were acquiring smaller companies. And so their customer support practices hadn't been as evolved as our as the ones we developed it eliminate. And so that I think helped a little bit because in most cases, it was a transition from something that was lesser to something that was better. In one of the cases, we had a Salesforce service desk instance that was set up. And it was it was very badly implemented. Like that's, it's a great platform, it can work really well. But it takes a little bit of work to set it up and to maintain it properly. And this is one that you know, company come in Done, done the job and pulled away. And they were using the system that just wasn't working very well for them at all, for example, you would, you know, as a customer, you'd send a ticket in, the agent would take the ticket would reply to the ticket and get your response back. If you then reply to that it would create a new ticket in the system, and there wouldn't be any reference to the original ticket. And it's like that's like basic functionality that really caused frustration for a lot of frustration for our team, but also frustration for the clients as they're trying to write in and get help. And so in cases like that, I think getting everyone on the same page and having a workflow and a tool that worked well, I think solved a lot of problems. We did see some hiccups, where some of these companies have done a really great job integrating like the like we got one right now that we actually haven't finished doing the migration for it was a later acquisition. But they had a really great job doing single sign On in Freshdesk from our app. And so client was in there, they could click in the app, hey, here's my support tickets, and it would pull data right from Freshdesk. And if they clicked on it, then it would jump them into Freshdesk because we have roughly 12 major products at this point. And we're still working from a development perspective of getting a single federated sign on for all those products where you know, here's the system of record. And if you sign on here, it gives you permissions to all the products that you purchased. We don't have that yet where it's on the roadmap. We're working toward it. But it's a pretty big lift for our development team. And so as we're as we're moving clients from on that product from Freshdesk, into Arizona desk instance, one of the reasons we haven't done it yet is because we don't want them to lose that that integration with the product. On the other hand, it's becoming kind of a challenge from a reporting perspective. And so it's become clear that we're definitely doing that. And it's going to be happening in June this year. School ends but that was been kind of one of the hesitations is like we don't want to take away features. We don't want to make it more difficult for our clients. But we also need to make sure that we're using the same tool as a team. So it's kind of trying to balance those different challenges and not destroying the customer experience through it all. 

Alex McBratney (Host)  14:58

Yeah, there's absolutely a ton of moving parts. What are some of the advantages like are there best practices that you're able to grab from other some of these other companies that you've acquired, or advantages beyond just best practices or software technology that they use that you maybe hadn't thought of that brought in some good ideas?

Matt Dale (Guest)  15:18

I think from a support perspective, again, in our particular case, we were dealing with very small, you know, startup companies, and so they hadn't had time to really get that dialed in, I would say, if we were looking at a much larger company with a very stable team, there might be some things like that, that we could pick up from a lot of the cases where when we interacted with them and said, Hey, what do we want to make sure that we don't lose, it was stuff that we already had kind of built into our practices. And so it was really affirming in that sense, like, oh, they're doing what we're doing. They may be at a different stage of the evolution. But the things that we feel are important for our clients are the ones that their clients feel the same way about. And there's differences in some of the models, for example, we, we sell to New York City Department of Education, we started about half the schools there, the way we sell to those districts is very different than the way we handle for the rest of the country, because New York City's kind of a different experience. And they have different needs and different options. And so that particular product, we've had to kind of change some of our practices to make sure that we're accommodating, you know, what they've built up that really works well for the teachers and educators in New York City. And so we've tried to kind of standardize, and we've tried to take those kind of the best practices that we've developed, and that we can see in some of these other teams. But we've also tried to make sure that we're staying with what is unique to that particular product, or that particular customer base, so that we don't mess everything up for him.

Aarde Cosseboom (Co-Host)  16:34

And we all know that education is extremely seasonal but how does that play into your strategy, whether it has to do with don't roll out products during certain timeframes, or you know, you have a small window, maybe it's summer to be able to vet new potential products or make migrations or mergers of tools that you already have? How does seasonality play into it? And then, you know, how does training and prepping for your potential new hires for the new season for that that influx of contacts? How does that work?

Matt Dale (Guest)  17:08

Yeah, so it's a very challenging from a seasonality perspective. And it's a little bit more challenging to I have, I have friends that have some ecommerce companies where they have seasonality to in their case, though, in fact, my wife works at one of the one of those companies, and in their case, they know there's going to be some business during you know, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, they know they're going to be seeing kind of this volume, and their volume is very predictable. Their products are fairly straightforward to support as well, you know, where's my product? I have a sales question before I buy the product, I got the wrong product, I want to return my product, you know, there's a finite number of questions that they can get about, about that, that physical thing. And so it's very, it's easier for them to say, hey, we've got a, we've got a staff that we want to bring in temporarily to handle some of the volume, I in fact, my wife, she works probably, I don't know, three or four hours a week, during the offseason, she's a stay at home mom, she homeschools our kids, but then when they have their busy spikes, she says cool, the kids are gonna get to watch a little TV today. And then she's able to jump in and give them you know, seven or eight hours a day during those peak periods. And that gives that team enough extra bandwidth to handle the volume. For our team. It's tricky, because our products are very customizable. If you think of kind of like finance software, you know, you got like mint and Quicken on one side, you've got QuickBooks kind of in the middle and you've got like NetSuite and SAP and the really high end, you know, crazy business stuff, our products tend to fall more in the QuickBooks then up to NetSuite is kind of their customization level. So very enterprise kind of big business or enterprise focused. And it's very difficult to bring a new agent onboard and say, Hey, here's, here's everything you need to know about all of our products, or a single product, everything you didn't know, you could be asked. And so we've been we've been had, we've changed kind of the way we look at that the first thing we do is sort of set up tier levels for our for our questions. And so basic stuff is tier one. And that's things that can be answered by a knowledgebase article or, you know, quick General, in a lot of times, in our client base, those are the teachers that are in the classroom, trying to give an assessment or trying to figure out how to integrate in a gradebook to and would be more customized things that are specific to that particular school district and the way they're operating. And then t three are things that involve, you know, backend database queries, working with our data team, working with our product team, or our development team to do something that's a little bigger picture more gnarly. And in allowing us to kind of set that up, then we can say cool, you know, for tier one issues, let's get this group of folks and even maybe cross train some folks from product A to product B so that they can handle kind of the lower shelf easier items so that the people that have really in depth product knowledge are able to handle the tier two and tier three issues. And so that's one way that we've kind of been able to deal with a little bit of the seasonality is moving folks around from less busy products to more busy products, kind of that tier one level. The other thing we do is we spend basically, you know, our offseason preparing for the busy season so, so my personal busy season as a leader on this team is right now, we're onboarding, we've got a group of people that we're in the middle of hiring. We, like I said, we had a group that started last week. And it's also saying, hey, what systems do we need to have in place that our team can be successful in the fall? You know, do we have our knowledge bases up to date? What were the areas that we had gaps last year? Can we get some of that and get that information out there? And so you know, when I talk to senior leadership, it's like, well, we're staffing for close to peak, we're not quite staffing for peaks as a few weeks where we're, you know, underwater, and people are pulling overtime. But we're staffing for less than that. What are you going to do with those agents the rest of the year? And it's like, well, you know, there's a ton of things that we need to do to prepare for that next year and that busy season. And so we've been, we've had varying degrees of success with that, depending on exactly how many people we have staffed and what sort of volume we see this last year with COVID. It's been crazy, because educators are dealing with a lot of challenges switching from an in classroom model to a hybrid model, or to a remote only model. And there's been a lot, I think, there's been a lot of confusion and a lack of clarity, sort of at the district level for a lot of them. And so we're getting weird questions at weird times of the year that we normally wouldn't see them. Because they're like, hey, I've got this class, I just found out tomorrow, we're all going full time remote, because someone tested positive for COVID. How do I change my schedule? How do I administer an online assessment if we're not in the computer lab and things like that? So it's been it's been a pretty weird year from a how do we predict what's coming this year, but I think we've been fairly flexible and been able to do a decent job supporting our clients, one of the and we're testing, we're talking about the agents that are, you know, manning the phones, and working off, you know, the computers and emails and whatnot, is your agent churn is such a big issue for a lot of love our clients and people that are in the contact center, how do you manage to not have to keep that churn low? And then, like you're saying a little bit earlier about the what do you do in the offseason? And I think we framed mentioned finding other things for them to do, is there an exit plan for them that mature out of the contact center? How does that look in your in your organization? Yeah, so in my perfect world of spirit, especially as a young, you know, leader and on the support team, I was like, we want to have people that stay here forever, you know, we want to make sure that we're able to keep them and you know, keep that knowledge here on the support team. As I as I matured a little bit, I realized that the support team is actually a really great farm team for the rest of the company. And so we can bring folks in, we can train them up, they can understand who our clients are, how our products work really well. And then at some point, for me, it's kind of somewhere in the two year mark is sort of my ideal, at a minimum, I'll keep them as long as I want to stay, but two years feels like that's about as minimum as I go first year to train them the second year for them to kind of give back and help train the next group of new recruits. But sometime at that, at that period, having them be able to move off into other roles in the company. Things like our data team, which some of the more technical people gravitate towards, they like to get in there and, you know, mess with raw data and write SQL queries, we have folks that move over to the QA team, they really understand how our products used, they're able to test and test new software so that bad stuff doesn't get rolled out to support doesn't get killed by you know, a bunch of issues related to release. We have folks that move over to our CSM team. So working with our, our CSM, and being able to kind of interact more in a proactive way with our clients as opposed to reactive. We even had folks that have gone to a sales and to the finance teams based on kind of their own backgrounds. And so I always look at those as kind of my sleeper cells in the organization, those are those are people that understand the consequences of bad decisions up the chain and how that affects people for, you know, on our support team and how it affects our clients. And so that's something that we've been historically very successful with. As we've grown with the merger, there's been some challenges because obviously, we're trying to get to the right size. And so there haven't been as many opportunities for folks to move into other roles. And I think that's been somewhat demoralizing for my team, like, Hey, I really want to move over to something but there's nothing that's opening up. And, and so we've got a we got a lot of folks that are kind of nearing their shelf life on support, where they're like, Hey, I'm here, and I'm a good person. But I also I'm really getting worn down answering calls every day or doing email every day. And so kind of trying to help give them hope and give them opportunities on other projects to stretch their abilities and grow. I think it's been a challenge. And we've seen some turnover this year that is planned because we're that's the environment that we're in but would be stuff that, you know, a couple years ago, prior to the big the big merger when we were still expanding the size of the team. I think we wouldn't have seen that same sort of churn because they would have moved internally into another role. So that's been a bit of a challenge is kind of part of the mergers and acquisitions. 

Alex McBratney (Host)  24:29

Yeah, yeah, we've seen we've seen a lot of our guests talk about how there is an exit plan for people in their center. And for these agents because no one wants to be a career agent sitting on phones for the you know, for 20 years. And it is a great proving ground because you can you'll know so much about the product, you can go anywhere in the organization. Take those leadership qualities or that drive that the person has and really make their way up to the VP level and the executive levels and we've seen it like people we talked about yeah, I started in the center. You know answering phones. And the great part is that you hear other stories of like, yeah, I was I was going through a training and there's this guy in the suit next to me training as well, later to find out who is the CEO, taking calls for an hour, an hour, every week, the CEO will take calls to learn more about the customer experience. So really interesting. And I think it's great that you have that mindset of learned, right, that can't keep them forever. It's like, it's hard to replace them for sure. Especially when you have a high knowledge product that, you know, isn't just a widget that you can plug anybody into. 

Matt Dale (Guest)  25:33

Right. Yeah, I had to make peace with that. And it was really good to be like, Okay, this is how it is going to be how do I set myself up in my team for success in that environment? And I think that was a, for me kind of a changing of mindset that really helped us shape where we needed to go in the future. So, but Aarde, I interrupt I'm sorry. 

Aarde Cosseboom (Co-Host)  25:51

Oh, no, you're good. Yeah, there's a select few very small percentage, I don't even know if you were to take all the contacts that are that are lifers, they never want to leave they they'll be there forever, you know, if you won't make them happy, they'll go to another call center and do something similar tech support or customer support and those are the people to really listen to those are the people who will give you a really good candid feedback, because they know that their career 10 years down the road is going to be doing this. So they want to they want their lives to be easier and improved over time. So what are some of the things that you're doing? Or at least thinking about doing to help your agents complete their jobs or their tasks? Maybe it's like, caller ID or screen pops or, you know, speech analytics, or KPIs or metrics like what, what are the things you're doing today? And then what are the things that you're thinking about? 

Matt Dale (Guest)  26:44

Yeah, that's a great, great question. So today, the goal is obviously to give the agents everything they need to be successful. And if that can be on one screen, that's like, you know, that's the dream, right? So we've been really working as part of the consolidation efforts is really saying, hey, once we get everybody in Zendesk, we want to make sure that we've got a good data sync going from Zendesk to Salesforce, Salesforce being kind of our system of record with all the details for our company, but Zendesk, at least in our experience, having kind of that more agent focused interface that's really helpful for kind of the support world. So instead of having two data silos, that someone's gonna jump into Salesforce and go, okay, what's this? You know, is this a, you know, a big client is this a small client as a key contact is, is someone that, you know, who is this person, or were they calling from, they would have that information right there. And that, so that's kind of aspirational, we're in the middle of a couple projects that will, you know, hopefully by August this year back to school will have that data in, and we'll be in good shape from that perspective. So we use Talkdesk for our phone system and talk desk is set up so that when a call comes in, it pops a ticket in Zendesk, there's even a little widget some of the agents use, it's right in Zendesk, others prefer seeing talk desk, kind of in a separate window. But basically, you know, the information is there, now, we have a bit of a challenge, because as a business to enterprise kind of model, most of our clients are calling in behind a district phone number. So there's a single outbound caller ID, that happens for everyone at Santa Monica Malibu, and we can have, you know, 1000 different people calling in from that same phone number. And so unlike some of the places that there's some really cool stuff you can do in with phones, you know, again, like the company my wife works for, it's like, oh, they know that Matt Dale's calling him, because he's the only person in the world that has that cell phone number. And as soon as he calls in, a bunch of information pops up, they can see his latest orders, I can see his recent tickets and, and that's just not something that we have the access to, because we're behind a single outbound caller ID for most of our clients. And so our agents have a few extra little steps there. But really, once that's happened, you know, the ticket exists, we've got links to the recording right from the ticket. The agent either writes up notes, like, Hey, this is what we did, or they're able to say, hey, I need to follow up on this. And they can leave the ticket open and respond, you know, via phone or via email for our clients. And so I think the goal is really to kind of set things up where they have access to what they need in one spot. And that's something that we've been big on, we've also been using Maestro QA, a tool that allows us to do some quality assurance on how how's the call going? What does the work product look like? So we have a couple rubrics, one for phones, one for tickets, and one for a chat. Basically, we have you know, here's a five point rubric here. Here's how you want to answer these scores. And we can have either agents rate each other or have their team leads their managers rating them for that too. And so really being able to provide in weekly one on ones, hey, here's three, three tickets, or three client interactions. Let's talk through those, here's the things you did really well, here's an area that you can improve and you can grow. And that's been successful. We're actually gonna be rolling that out kind of to a larger percent of the population but we've been successful over the last couple years and using that and I think that's really helpful for our client or for our agents to, you know, actually have actionable, you know, commentary on their work product. It's also objective to it's not just like, Oh, this person feels this way about my thing. But no, look, here's the rubric. Here's how here's, here's the standard. And here's where I maybe could have done a little bit better at.

Alex McBratney (Host)  30:06

Okay, so when you mentioned Talkdesk, it rose a question inside of me because so you've been with illuminate for nine years. So obviously talk desk was around, and contact didn't have their cloud Genesys didn't have their cloud. What was the transition? Like from a premise based system to the cloud? And like, what was the main driver? And then even deepers, what were the challenges? What do you wish you would have known beforehand before getting into that?

Matt Dale (Guest)  30:33

Yeah, so interestingly enough, Illuminate actually was using eight by eight, their virtual office, which is their kind of their, their base model, product, not virtual contact center, which is kind of their higher end one. But that was what they were using was Voice over IP when I started, so nine years ago, we actually had that we had Zendesk had Bennett had been set up and we had we had a bite. And in doing so it was set very much the boss's, like, hey, phones will ring in the office, and you'll get a human being. We didn't have a call queue. We didn't have, you know, automatic callbacks, it was, it worked really well, in the very early stages, from a kind of a small business perspective, where we had a lot of people to answer the phone, sometimes you're getting, again, a salesperson, and it might be a human voicemail, where they're taking down some notes and having someone technically call you back. But we had had a pretty rough year, one of the years where we released some product changes that were three pretty big ones. And they had some pretty big bugs. And so and we were understaffed, we hadn't done a good analytics on, here's how many people were expecting based on the growth that we're seeing as an organization. And also based on some of the challenges we're seeing. And so we were short, probably three or four agents at that point. And for us, once you start a busy season, we don't have the bandwidth to actually go out and hire people. And we don't have the bandwidth to train them. So you're basically locked and loaded from August through December. Yeah. And it was it was a rough year, and not having a robust phone system that had options for you know, queues and automatic callback, and, you know, call recording, there were a bunch of features that we needed that we just became really clear that weren't there. And so it wasn't that that switched a lot of places and made from on prem to the cloud, but it was kind of from Hey, we're in startup mode in basic standard phone system, to Hey, let's get something that actually meets our needs as a call center. And we did a bunch of evaluation, we looked at a bunch of the big players went wow, like the at that time, the price point was beyond what we wanted to pay. And we looked at a bunch of the kind of the budget options, and it was they didn't offer the features that we were looking for. And so at the time, Talkdesk was kind of in their early startup stage. And they were they were growing like crazy. And the price point was really attractive. And they had a several features that were really key to what we were looking for. So after going through the evaluation, we said yeah, this is who we're gonna go with, and, and we've had a great relationship with them for the last kind of like, five, five years, maybe six years. It's been it's been a while. 

Alex McBratney (Host)  32:58

Definitely one of the early adopters with them, right? And yeah, their rapid growth and all the features, and they're in the Gartner quadrant top right, like, yeah, putting pressure on the big two. Yeah, interesting. So what would you say are, were some of the challenges that were resolved or like that really, I get to actually step back one more second? What, besides price, there's anything else that stood out on top to us versus like Genesys or InContact, or some of these other ones that the bigger ones. What set them apart feature wise?

Matt Dale (Guest)  33:28

I think it was really kind of the price, we were looking for something. Yeah, in my ideal world, we had something that would allow queue callback, because that was a feature that was like, Hey, you know, automatic callback, when you're in the queue, hold your space. And the big guys had it. But they were, you know, licensing print from monthly perspective, you know, several 100, like $100 more per seat than talk desk at the time. And it was like, I can't afford that on the budget that we had, we had just gotten the extra, like, I can't justify, like, we don't need Delta Airlines quality of call center right now. You know, but we need something significantly better than this, this base model. And so that was a feature that talk to us had, it really spoke to me. I think the other aspect that I was really interested in was kind of the ease of use and the ease of setup I had when I was at the law firm. Previous to this, I managed our PBX and we had an on prem and I dealt with merging two systems from T pack and from C beyond. So we got trunk, but it was like this whole challenge with Yeah, yeah, it was it was it was all sorts of fun and dealing with, you know, a on prem Voice over IP system running on a on a server that we had in the server room. And it was it was a huge hassle. And I could manage some of it because right you know, I I'm not a I'm familiar with computers, right? Yeah. But it was a fairly complex setup to do a lot of different things. And so when I had the experience with eight by eight and their universal office product, it was like, wow, this is really easy to set up ring groups and really easy to kind of Configure. And so as we were looking at things I said I want to have something that I don't need an IT guy to run the system. I want to be able to have support, handle it ourselves and I don't want to have this whole complex crazy, like I need to, you know, work with a third party and have them set all this stuff up. It's like, let's, let's find if we can, let's find something that's really straightforward that allows us to grow and flex. And, you know, if we need to add a ring group for teachers for a month for this particular product, can we do that? And if we need to add agents, if we want to bring folks in from other teams, can we can we make this all happen. And so those are some big things for us. As we were looking at it, we were also really concerned with having physical handsets on our phones. We wanted a sip client, basically, that would work with our phones. And that was one that we went, we did all this work, we bought phones, one of the weekends, like three of us came in and we configured all these phones and had them set up at people's desks that was before we were as remote as we are we just had like, I think two remote employees at that point. And we rolled it out. And after like about a week, there were some hiccups with the SIP client and some challenges, you know, Talkdesk was still in early stages, and they had some of their, you know, some of their hiccups. But we found that most of the agents were like, No, I'm actually good just doing this on my computer. And having that option, then, pretty much after a couple months, it realized that no one's actually using these phones, let's retire these and we're just using our computers, we had nice little, you know, over the ear headsets and it was wired in and it worked really well. And that allowed us then to make the switch to say, hey, if you want to work home, you want to work remote a day a week or two days a week. You can take your laptop, everyone had laptops, you can take your laptop, as long as you have a wired internet connection or are really close to the router. Yeah, you know, you can you can you can take calls from home and that allowed us over the course the next three or four years to really grow our remote team. So we can handle you know, we started getting more clients on the east coast. So we need to have coverage, basically from 5am to 5pm. Pacific. And it allowed us to staff anywhere, not just in our main Irvine office. And so we had we had a really robust remote team and we grew that team up and then the folks in the office found out Hey, I can I can actually do my job, I can be effective as a remote employee a couple days a week too. And so fast forward to a year ago, when my boss came to me and said, Hey, we're thinking of shutting the office down. We think this whole like this virus thing is maybe we should be taking you know, precautions and maybe we need to shut the office down. What effect is this going to have on the support team? And what effect is it going to have on our clients? And I said well, there's going to be zero effect. You know, everyone on the team has been working at least one day a week from home, we have all the right technology in place like everything is dialed, you know, we're not playing any weird games, we got a VPN into the local network, and then we've got to connect to the you know, the on prem phone system, it's, no, this is going to be fine. It's going to work. And it did you know, there were challenges. Everyone's faced with COVID. with, you know, our kids are at home with us. We're living, you know, some of our folks live in New York City in a very small apartment, and having their whole family in the small apartment is a challenge. And so we've dealt with those challenges. But the technological challenges of having a system that was cloud based was just like this is this is not even a problem for us. So we were really lucky in kind of the early decisions that we made, not even knowing they were going to have that positive effect later so... 

Aarde Cosseboom (Co-Host)  38:08

You're taking me back to the old startup days when everything was on prem PBX, and you'd open up a closet, it would be unlocked all the time. I don't know why it was unlocked but you open it right in the office. Yeah, security. Yeah, we had badges to get in but other than that, you just kind of open it up peek in there. And there's you know, server room, tiny little closet and there's this little like, like sticker that says, Do not turn off. You'll destroy the phones, like the little death like someone drew a little like skull and crossbones. And I remember having some outages. And then of course, we always did a an RCA root cause analysis and a post mortem for every outage and we'd have to notate you know why the phones went down. And more times than not, it was Johnny accidentally unplugged it or, you know, like something fell on the power cord. And we had to replace the power go to go to Ace Hardware and replace the power. But you're here reminding me of those, those old it days. I know. I know, we're coming up on time. But I always like asking this question. And Alex, if you don't mind, I'll ask you this time. But we always remember the bad experiences, the bad customer experiences but it's very hard for us to remember the good customer experiences. So for you as a consumer of brands and products and things like that, what is an example of a good experience that you've had, you know, in recent past?

Matt Dale (Guest)  39:35

I feel like I haven't left my house for the last like, basically years. So it's probably a different answer than I might give. Ordinarily, yeah. But no, actually So, you know, we my wife and I bought a house a couple months ago. And the process of buying a house selling a house is a pain in the butt too. But buying a house is just wretched, right? You got to talk to the bank and you get the mortgage and I get pulled honestly, 65 PDF different bank statements and tax, all that stuff that you have to do. And this wasn't the first house that we bought. So I had a little experience. But I got connected up with a local banker guy that actually my brother up here banks, because, you know we're coming in from out of state so we don't have you don't have the dentists, we don't have the doctor, we don't have that car mechanic, we don't have any of that stuff. My brother's like, hey, this guy's a great guy, you want to talk to him, he's a branch manager, local branch here at Key Bank. And I said, cool, you know, let's, I need a mortgage. Right? Like, let's talk about this, and that the experience of interacting with this gentleman just was really positive. It's a, it's key banks, they're regional. They're not, you know, huge, but they're also not tiny. It's not just one branch. And he just gave me really personalized care. And I suspect it probably has somebody that he knew my brother, but also, you know, he's there late at night. He's saying, Hey, you know, he's answering questions. Hey, let me give you my cell phone in case you have a question. So we can kind of get through this process. And we're trying to close earlier with a fairly aggressive schedule. And just working through that whole thing. He paid attention to what I was saying. He asked questions. And then when I responded, he didn't ask the same question again, which is an experience I've had with previous, you know, banking experience, and other things like that. And he just was very, very responsive, cared quite a bit about making sure that we had a success, you know, from start to finish experience with his bank and his loan officer and all this other stuff. And so, for me, it was a very in the midst of a kind of a crazy, intense experience as a homeowner or homebuyer, having someone there to kind of, Hey, we got this where I hear your concerns, we're going to make sure we hit these deadlines, and then hitting the deadlines falling back up and giving good feedback. Like, it was just a very positive, positive customer support experience for me. So yeah. 

Aarde Cosseboom (Co-Host)  41:42

I love that one. And yeah, going through buying a home. And Alex, you've done a couple times. And I think you're going through it as we speak. But during that time, you've got such a forensic microscope on you from a financial standpoint. Yeah, yeah. And you can feel very vulnerable, because like, all your eggs are in one basket. And if you sidestep to the left just a little bit, you'll you know, that could cost you $10,000, or whatever it is, to have someone help you and have that level of support. And empathy is, is really important. And during that crucial time. So great. Great example, great story. I love that I think that's one of the first ones we've asked for our guests where it didn't start with a negative and then turn to positive, it was actually just positive the whole way out. Everyone else usually like, Oh, it was a horrible experience had to escalate. And then the manager was great. And we had to resolve things. But yeah, it was great having you on the podcast today. Alex, I'll let you close it out. 

Alex McBratney (Host)  42:38

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I love it. And I love the trusted person, right when you're introduced to someone through is because you trust them, right? Your brother trusts, right. And it plays so well. And just to the end of the context center, as well, you know, having empathy, doing what's right being there, for the person listening, communicating, you know, some of the basic stuff. And it's, it's easy to lose sight of that sometimes that, you know, from the executive side, they lose sight, they look at the numbers from the success side, they look at the customer, so it's good to marry that together. 

Matt Dale (Guest)  43:11

We're basically people connecting with people, right? That's a fundamental level, that's good customer support is if I can see who you are as a human being and connect with you meet your needs and then you can see me as a human being, like, that's so important. I think it's so easily lost in this world, especially in things like real estate transactions, but I think just in general, like it's really easy to get to lose touch that humanity and I was glad to have had that in that experience. And that's something that we try to allow our agents and our clients to connect with each other in that way. 

Alex McBratney (Host)  43:41

Absolutely. Well, Matt, again, thanks. Thanks for jumping on. It's been great getting to know you. And this won't be the last and I'm sure we'll see at one of the events out there too, once they once those start back up as well.  

Matt Dale (Guest)  43:52

Sounds good. Thanks, guys. 

Alex McBratney (Host)  43:53

You got it. Well, that wraps up the show for today. Thanks for joining. And don't forget to join us next week as we bring another guest in to talk about the trends around cloud contact center and customer experience. Also, you can find us at Adler,, LinkedIn, or your favorite podcast platform. We'll see you next week on another cloud podcast.